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Great expectations

They tell us that college is all about community—here specifically, the Duke Community.

But we don’t stop at just being a part of the Duke Community, an everyone’s-invited-so-where’s-the-charm-in-it kind of concept. After all, Duke is basically just a place, and when you graduate, it’s not even yours to call home anymore.

Instead, you seek something at a more micro level, more tangible and rewarding. You look for community from a group of friends, a fraternity or sorority, a living group, a student group, an ethnic group and so on. Some of us are part of one community; some of us are members of several. The people and activities to which we dedicate our time ultimately define us, and we find that social groups and extracurricular activities often overlap.

In a senior column you’re supposed to give advice. Here’s something I’ve learned at this place: It’s OK to dabble in different circles, even if that means you’re not completely defined by any of them. My four years here haven’t been marked by one group of friends or one activity that took the cake of all the amazing experiences I could have had (to my friends laughing sarcastically right now: The Chronicle was time consuming, yes, but that’s not the same as singularly defining).

Sometimes we lament that Duke appears fragmented. I don’t think this quality is unique to Duke, but an attribute of most liberal arts colleges, where students are encouraged to pursue their unique interests and choose from a million different extracurricular and social options.

But when your freshman-year hall mates migrate to this or that same group by the second semester, some of you may wonder with a disconcerting feeling which one group at Duke will give meaning to your next three years. It would be silly to limit oneself because of this pressure.

Sure, you miss having the group you can always hang out with, whom you can turn to for fun and advice. In high school I had a very tight-knit group of friends, who shared the same kinds of values and interests. It wasn’t easy for me to come to terms with this erratic way of going through college, and I definitely didn’t expect it. But I like to believe there’s a reason things happen the way they do (call it self-preservation), and that sometimes they don’t make sense until they end.

There is value in pursuing a variety of activities, social groups and academic interests. None of us are homogenous. OK, some of us are, but it’s so much more fun not to be. It’s hard to predict how you will find your passion. If I hadn’t decided to write a story for The Chronicle, despite having no prior experience, I may not have thought about going to law school. Each experience and interaction can shape us in a different, often unforeseen way.

As my Duke experience slowly morphed into this unstructured lifestyle, I admit it made me question myself at times, but in the end it has also made me better. We often hear that Duke is fundamentally a place of contrasts—not only does it have world-famous academics, but also championship-winning athletics, a leading medical center, vibrant religious life and unrivaled research facilities, with an art museum at the center of it all. Duke teaches us this underlying dynamic of contrasts, and we should strive to embody it.

By no means is my experience a perfect example; really, it’s more of an accident than anything. Ironically, one of my biggest fears is being unprepared, and I hate surprises as a rule. But after working in a newsroom and feeling my arm hair rise whenever a story breaks, I’ve come to acknowledge that some of the best things are unexpected.

So, this is to all the memories and friendships that I could never have expected back in August of 2006: Weasel’s Place, Bhangra Blowout, V. 104, Russian lit, Global Health Focus, Loop dinners, Jamaica, Awaaz, 2008 elections, Plaza concerts, editor elections, four-year friendships, two insane months in Pune, Durham dining and, of course, watching in Cameron as we won the national championship.

Everyone who has been a part of these moments has contributed to my sense of community here. I can only hope I returned the favor even the tiniest bit.

Shuchi Parikh is a Trinity senior. She is the editorial page editor of The Chronicle, former news editor and former university editor. She wants to thank Chelsea, Eugene and Ben for an unforgettable year during V. 104.


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